“So why does this have such astonishing viewing figures? I think it is because it addresses the comment I so often hear about many aspects of public life: “It’s all bent isn’t it, but what can you do?”
A view from EDDC Leader, Paul Arnott. Midweek Herald, 24 March
Every time a new series of Line of Duty comes round, someone calls me up and says, “I hadn’t noticed before – he’s called Steve Arnott; same surname as you. What do you think about that?” Actually, it feels a bit odd, and for many reasons.
Firstly, although I have been called Arnott for the last 59 years, it is not the name I was born with; it is my adoptive name. I was actually called Rory Brennan for a month until my adoption was formalised, although I didn’t know that for another 35 years.
So “Arnott” has always felt like a bit of a trading name, so to speak. It is a pretty rare surname too, and if I meet another one they are often quite excited and I feel I disappoint them. There is a family tree for my Arnotts stretching back into deepest Hertfordshire on my dad’s side but in Ireland Brennans spring up all over the country like Smiths here.
My lot are from Counties Carlow and Galway, and the name also turns up as one of Ireland’s leading bread brands. Of more cultural importance, Bishop Brennan is the appalling, fornicating priest in Father Ted who makes Ted and Dougal’s life hell, until they find a videotape of him, his mistress and his son on holiday in California.
The social effect of this depiction of Bishop Brennan in mid-90s Ireland was seismic. It began to loosen the vice-like grip of the priest on the hearts and minds of young Ireland, which has since gone from what was once described as priest-ridden to more or less agnostic – the most free-thinking place in Europe – in under two decades. Meanwhile, to add to the confusion, the greatest department store in Ireland is called Arnotts, who sponsored all the teams my Irish family members have supported all their lives.
Which brings me back to Steve Arnott on Line of Duty, where there is another level of complexity. The brilliant actor playing him, Martin Crompston, actually has a broad Scottish accent, yet his estuary English is impeccable, a truly great performance.
Over the last five series, while Arnott has proved himself to be utterly incorruptible, the pressures upon him have been extraordinary. Quite often, he discovers that the most senior officer in the story is as bent as a nine bob note. Usually, that senior officer knows that Arnott is on to him and does all he can to take him down.
Favoured techniques include either destroying evidence, or presenting it in such an inverted way that Arnott stands accused of the very things the senior officer is guilty of. And of course the senior officer can depend on a shadowy support group of those who have much to lose, including their liberty, if Arnott and his associates cannot be stopped by fair means or foul.
So why does this have such astonishing viewing figures? I think it is because it addresses the comment I so often hear about many aspects of public life: “It’s all bent isn’t it, but what can you do?”
Well, what author Jed Mercurio has done is show that you can stop corruption in any aspect of public life, but this requires three things. First, never back down. Second, know every detail better than the bent senior officer. Third, never take your eye off who else has so much to lose if justice prevails. And perhaps one more, don’t let the ambitious fellow travellers swimming in your wake betting on both sides get you down.
British people get all that; they just hadn’t seen it portrayed so brilliantly in a television drama before. Amazingly, the most popular scenes are the up to half hour long interrogations, with viewers hooked on every fragment of new evidence. With a wised-up population like that there is hope we can rid public life of corruption, wherever we live.